The most astute of West Ham observers have noticed a problem seen over the past month or so, which is our inability to start the game with a real intent of gaining control of the game and scoring early goals.
I agree that we have had a recent problem of slow starts in the first half, which add extra anxiety and strain on the players.
While Slav has a predilection for starting counter-attacks from the back, using a 4-2-3-1 formation, I’m not sure whether this is the optimal approach for quick goal-scoring, especially at this time of season.
Fortunately, in Slav, we have a very a clever manager with great insight, who after the recent 2-2 draw against Norwich made the comment: “No way will we put the season to bed now – we have no right to do that and it will not happen.
“This kind of performance gives us hope that it will be a very different end to the season.
“We have character, quality, team spirit and the legs to do it – if we play like we did in the last half-hour at Norwich”
One solution may involve starting with a 4-3-3 formation, where we attempt to control the tempo of the game from the midfield by using a combination of pace and control on the ball.
Our faster players should be encouraged to run at the opponents with or without the ball.
If we can somehow gain the early tempo and win possession in midfield, I think opportunities will open for our goal-scorers.
The 4-3-3 formation is a high-energy, fast-paced formation that thrives off three tactically aware, mobile central midfielders.
It’s vitally important that the full-backs get forward and provide width, as the wingers are more wide forwards in this system – they do their best work cutting inside and hover on the corners of the penalty area.
In the midfield three, one must be a proper anchor: defensively able, steady in his distribution and quick to shut down counterattacks. The other two enjoy an expansive role that covers almost every inch of the turf, so a ‘good motor’ is a necessity.
The 4-3-3 is probably one of the most offensive formations available, apart for the incredible 4-2-4 set-up played by the Brazilians in the 1970 World Cup Final, which is prone to counter-attacks from the opposing team.
If Slav opts for a starting 4-3-3, he is more or less obliged to pick the players who can do best justice with this formation. After gaining some confidence in the first five or ten minutes or so, then it is all out assault, with the objective of scoring the all-important first goal and, if possible, trying to score a second goal shortly afterwards.
Depending on the condition of the players, depth of players in the squad, the second half should be well within our control.
One option is to continue playing the first 10-15 minutes of the second half where we left off, with the objective of killing the game off.
However, if we have players who are either tired, or carrying niggles, we always have the safe option of switching back to a 4-5-1 formation and using fresh subs to see out the game. Knowing that the opposition will be throwing everything at us, the use of the 4-5-1 still allows for good counter-attacking possibilities for scoring a third goal against the run of play, whilst limiting the likelihood of the opposition getting back into the game.
So if we can overcome our next FA Cup game against Blackburn Rovers, we face an enormous nine game challenge through the March-April months. This may turn out to be a litmus test of how far we have come.
Bearing in mind the imminent return of Mani Lanzini and Diafra Sakho, we certainly have the potential to win a majority of these games.
This Premier League season has been one of amazing volatility. As matters stand at the present time, there is a real possibility that when May approaches, we could be in the mix for a possible finish in the top six, perhaps even the top four.
No time for dreaming – the boys are going to give it one hell of a go!
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